Artist: Steve Reich
Album: "The Desert Music"
Release Date: December 11, 1985
Genre: Minimalism, Avant-Garde, Chamber-Music, Modern-Composition
Mood: Theatrical, Hypnotic, Eerie, Detached
Reminds Of: John Cage, Terry Riley, Philip Glass
What People Think: Wiki, Amazon Editorial Review
Definitely Worth Buying: Amazon, CdUniverse
1. The Desert Music: First Movement (Fast)
2. The Desert Music: Second Movement (Moderate)
3. The Desert Music: Third Movement Part One (Slow)
4. The Desert Music: Third Movement Part Two (Moderate)
5. The Desert Music: Third Movement Part Three (Slow)
6. The Desert Music: Fourth Movement (Moderate)
7. The Desert Music: Fifth Movement (Fast)
Borrowing its title and text from a book of poetry by William Carlos Williams, Steve Reich's The Desert Music (1982-1984) is not a pictorial work, but is, nonetheless an evocative one. The Desert Music addresses the idea of mankind's awareness of his own condition, a subject that appears in one way or another in each of the three included poems. From Theocritus: Idyll/A version from the Greek, Reich sets the words "Begin, my friend, for you cannot, you may be sure, take your song, which drives all things out of mind, with you to the other world." Part of the text from The Orchestra reads: "Is there a sound not addressed wholly to the ear?... I am wide awake, the mind is listening." The connection between these phrases and the desert is indirect but sure; as Reich points out, it was in Sinai, not Jerusalem, that the children of Israel received revelation and guidance from God, and in the wilderness that Jesus confronted his temptations. And, referring indirectly to the deserts of Alamagordo, New Mexico, where the first A-bombs were detonated, Reich quotes again from The Orchestra: "Man has survived hitherto because he was too ignorant to know how to realize his wishes. Now that he can realize them, he must either change them or perish."
The Desert Music is characterized in part by a recurring element: harmonic progressions that unfold as rapidly repeated chords, without melodic or rhythmic adornment. The work's episodes of development and reflection are arranged into an arch form (ABCBA). The first and fifth movements share the same harmonic material, while the second and fourth -- settings the same text -- are both in a moderate tempo and use similar harmonic progressions. The central movement, the longest in the work, exhibits its own symmetrical form, beginning and ending with the same text. The middle portion, the work's focal point, sets a text from The Orchestra that sheds light upon the relationship between text and tone in The Desert Music: "It is a principle of music to repeat the theme. Repeat and repeat again, as the pace mounts. The theme is difficult but no more difficult than the facts to be resolved."